Feature Interview: Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic)

British Road Race Champion in 2018, Connor Swift made a surprise jump in 2019 from the domestic peloton to the pro one in Europe for Arkéa-Samsic – we chatted about how he is finding the racing?

Feature Interview: Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic)
Photos: https://www.instagram.com/swiftconnor/

British Road Race Champion in 2018 (a year before his cousin Ben won the title), Connor Swift made a surprise jump in 2019 from the domestic peloton (Madison Genesis) to the pro one in Europe for Arkéa-Samsic – we chatted about how he is finding the racing?

After winning the first round of the Tour Series in 2019, Connor Swift or ‘TooFast’ as he has been called, packed his bags and went to race in Europe for Arkéa-Samsic. This week it was announced he was extending his contract with the team for two years.

In a team press release, Connor said of that “I am happy to have re-signed with the Arkea-Samsic team, which is a great team in which I can flourish and really progress in sport. I can work for my teammates such as my sprint and mountain leaders when necessary, but I can also play my own card when the opportunities for victory arise.”

“These two years will also allow me to perfect my knowledge of the French language. It’s always important to be able to speak new languages. Finally, the Arkea-Samsic team has high ambitions for the future and I am delighted to be part of this great project. ”

The General Manager of the Arkea-Samsic team Emmanuel Hubert has been impressed with Connor who has little experience of the big races in Europe and yet as you will read below, he was down to do some massive events in 2020.

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/swiftconnor/

“Connor Swift is a young rider with room for improvement. We recruited him during the 2019 season, after noting his fine physical skills. He was then British Champion on the road. This year, he has given a new dimension to his talent by protecting and helping his leader Nairo Quintana, among others such as the sprint finishes with the Nacer Bouhanni train, which proves the extent of the talent of this young rider who we have signed for another two seasons”.

A week ago today, I had the honour of talking to this talented rider and whilst it was only half an hour long, it could have been a lot longer had it not been for the steaks sizzling on Connor’s barbeque at the time LoL.

Looking back at last year when at the start of the year, Connor was racing for Madison Genesis, he says he had his fair share of national Bs and other races before making the big jump to the pro racing with his French team. Now, after his season was cut short at the start of the year by the pandemic, he says hopefully, it’s not too long before he starts racing to help keep the motivation going on the training roads.

This year has been tough for everyone but as lockdown regulations start to ease and riders can ride in groups, Connor is able to enjoy some company on his training rides with some pretty big names in the sport here like Ben Turner, Tom Stewart, Joey Walker and other local guys. Connor explained he’d not been able to train with his cousin Ben due to Ben’s own team Ineos requiring their riders to train solo (as per the Govt guidelines) but even that has come to an end and Connor’s looking forward to getting in some miles with the British Road Race Champion wearing the stripes he wore in 2018/19.

On the road massages with his girl Sian. Photos: https://www.instagram.com/swiftconnor/

Chatting about some of his highlights from lockdown, Connor explained he had just done a 300 kilometre ride with a local legend in Wayne Randle. “That was a good old ride” said Connor. “Bloody hell he’s still as strong as anything”. Wayne was well known for being one ‘ard rider’ in his time and it seems even in his 50s, he can still put the best riders into the pain cave. Class, as they say, is forever.

For Connor, lockdown came after Paris-Nice (a major classic in its own right) when that race was on the edge of that pandemic period in our history and the guessing game of how long the race would go on for in 2020 went on for the entire race.

“After Paris Nice, I maintained the form for three weeks and then realised the lockdown was going to go on for quite some time. We’d just got our keys to our first house after Paris- Nice (Connor and Sian) so that was nice but we didn’t move into it straight away because there was a lot that needed doing.”

“I was getting back from training and doing work on the house and then I spoke to Kev (Dawson) my coach and he agreed I’d take five days off and then build up so I did that and did some work on the house before I went back to training. They were only 15 hour weeks and literally doing loads at the house. After eight weeks since getting the keys, we moved in and I could relax then and focus more on the training. Since then, I have started picking things back up.

During lockdown, Connor did something that caught the attention of a lot of people, a solo Tour de Yorkshire. “I thought it would be good to kick start the endurance again as I’d been doing shorter intense efforts.”

“It was mega. It was the best and most enjoyable four days training I have done. We started the first day, Sian and me, and I thought I’d have a good four day endurance block and I started the first day and it was a head wind all day. I was pressing on and I had to keep doing that otherwise I was going to be seven plus hours in so every day after that it became like being in a solo breakaway or one of those efforts on the front of the bunch all day.”

“So they were hard training days but then making videos with Sian and having fun doing that, and having people come out to cheer me on was mega. I absolutely loved it. The team got onboard, Tour de Yorkshire came on board, and there was a video every night and it was the best four days I’d ever done…”

“Since the Yorkshire Tour, I have started building towards the races and I’m on my third week block and then it’s an easy week (this week) and then I’ll start to ramp it up for when the races begin.”

Connor’s coach Kevin Dawson is a proper legend in the sport, both in road racing and time trials and was a big part of the racing during my early days in the sport.

“Sometimes riders have to take on a team’s coach but the team overlooks what we are doing and it works good for me” says Connor. “Kev knows the local chain gangs (South Yorkshire), what group rides are like round this neck of the woods and I have been coached by Kev for three or four years now. The team overlooks what I do and sends Kev an email every now and then to check in on things. It’s pretty cool that.”

Connor on domestique duties  for his trade team. Photos: https://www.instagram.com/swiftconnor/

With racing on the horizon now for Connor, we looked back to the start of the season and his goals then. “The season kicked off with the SaudiTour helping out Nacer Bouhanni in the sprints etc along with Dan Mclay. After that I had a few stage races. I was meant to be doing Strade Bianche, Milan San Remo and Paris Roubaix but for me personally through the year the goals included Tour de Yorkshire where I was to be a joint leader there, Tour of Belgium and the road nationals.

Connor added that in the classics, he was to have more of a free role to see what he could do and to learn about the races where he says experience is key. But, like it did for the world, everything changed for Connor in March with lockdown.

He did manage to race a major event though in Paris-Nice which he says was a good race. A bit of an understatement when you think back a year and he would have been doing national B races!

“It’s pretty cool and what I wanted to be doing” Connor says. You are always aiming to step up and be doing what I am doing now. It’s pretty surreal and they are dream races for a lot of riders. I just want to crack out a few of these classic races to get experience in the hope of putting in some good performances in them in the future.”

“The standard in the UK is high, and even in the pro peloton I think there is close to 30 Brits in the pro peloton which is pretty decent. The racing is different here. It’s harder and when I did Omloop Het Nieuwsblad you realise the top guys, in the top 10/15 etc, have been doing these races for a fair few years.”

“You rarely get someone come along doing their first Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and roll off a top 10, they all have experience and know the roads doing the classics year in, year out and the top performers seem to be the mature experienced guys or riders who knows the races from the Under 23 event etc. I have never even done an under 23 classic race so Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was quite an eye opener for me getting to know the roads etc …”

Being a domestique, Connor says there is less pressure on him than others in the team. “I have kind of fitted into that roll so if it’s a sprint stage, I’ll be looking to help out Bouhanni and in stage races like Paris-Nice it was Quintana.”

“There were cross winds and I was tagged to protect him so I have a domestique role but on certain stages in certain stage races, where it’s not a GC day or a sprint stage, that is where I get my chance like in races like the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain, they have plenty of those days”.

“Last year at the back end of the season, the one day races I did, they suited me quite well , semi classics, so any day that is not going to be an out and out sprint or I don’t have to protect a GC rider, that is where I get my chance to have some fun and see if I have some good legs on the day and give it a good nudge”.

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Asked for an insight into protecting a rider like Quintana in the crosswinds, Connor says “in Paris Nice, I was seeing where he was in the bunch. He would always want me positioned kind of in front of him and I was always checking where he is and then any moment he tells me to go, that’s when I have to do a surge forward and take him to the front and stay there with him and make sure no other riders get past. He’ll direct me as to where he wants me to go, or if I sense a move going, I’ll try and move him up. He directs me and is pretty good at it”.

It is an example that for riders like Connor, a stage protecting a leader like Quintana is a massive focus all day race. Connor adds that in a race like the Tour de la Provence which Quintana won, he had his work to do there as well.

“If he stopped for nature break, I’d stay with him and get him back to the front; or if there are mountains coming up, then I’ll help position him for the climb. It means there is less stress for him not having to fight for position and he can stay clear of that washing machine bit in the middle of the peloton”.

It is quite a varied role having to work for a climber like Quintana and a sprinter like Nacer Bouhanni. Connor himself has finished up there in sprints like 6th on a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire but explains “I’m not known as a lead out man but when I came into the team, they gave me that job role and I had to do the best I can with little experience at this level”.

Bit of crosswind action for Connor and he’s lovin it of course! Photos: https://www.instagram.com/swiftconnor/

“Every race is a new experience and every sprint is different as well and I’m trying my best. There will be a debrief afterwards. We have targets for every race and you’ll get feedback afterwards laying out what the team’s objectives were, each individuals targets and the debrief telling you whether you met your target, did you have good legs etc, did he do his job and were there any problems within the race and was there anything that could be done better.”

Taking all this in for Connor has the added challenge of the language barrier. “I did have a big shock when I joined the team not knowing how much French is spoken. They have been really good with me though.”

“I’m learning French and understand around 70 % of things now especially if they are race related. My replies are kind of hard though! All of the DS’s can speak English though so if there are problems, they will translate to English for me. There are only a few riders that speak French only and are not good at English but there are others who can speak at bit. Sometimes it’s half French, half English and we wing it!”

Family Help
Learning the ropes in the pro peloton though is helpful when you know riders and if one of them happens to be your cousin, all the better! For Connor, that cousin happens to the rider who won the British Road Race championship the year after Connor did. Ben Swift.

Ben winning his title a year after Connor won his …

“It’s good” says Connor, “that I can train with him now and I’m always kind of learning from him. In the past he’d send messages from events and when I am at races, he might tell me when he thinks it will kick off so it’s nice to have him around and some one to talk and learn from.”

Connor is now in the last month of training befor the racing kicks off in France before some one day events in Italy and the Tour de Wallonie (Belgium). Connor then revealed he’s on the long list for the Tour de France. “There’s a pre selection of 13 riders for the Tour squad so I’ll need to restart the season in good form and try and get selection!”

Connor was supposed to be doing a team camp in France now but as there was a 14 day quarantine period for people coming back to the UK, he is missing that camp but replicating it at home. “I will probably do one mid July to the end of the month in some French mountains” Connor adds. Then the racing will start which he says will be pretty crammed. “I have done 17 race days so far this year but it would not surprise me if I have 30 or 40 more race days”.

Certainly if he does a Grand Tour like the Tour de France, that will be a large chunk in itself and we wish Connor a lot of luck for his end of season racing and in the coming two seasons with his team … great to chat as always Connor

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